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Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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A-One Minute to MidnightOne of the hottest moments of the Cold War gets the deluxe treatment here. Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs chronicles a tale of desperate men struggling to control a situation that could have ended in annihilation.

The Topic: Anyone who has studied American history, or the history of the 20th century, can probably provide an outline of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In October 1962, then-President Kennedy and his government discovered that the USSR had supplied Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba with nuclear missiles. The resulting standoff, lasting from October 15 to October 28, found Kennedy, Khrushchev, and their respective governments preparing for a war that none of them really wanted. Dobbs emphasizes the human aspect of the dilemma and includes the perspectives of operators at every level—from President Kennedy to the nervous button pushers deep in the Cuban jungle.
Knopf. 448 pages. $28.95. ISBN 1400043581

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Any new entry in the crowded field of books on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis must pass an immediate test: Is it just another recapitulation, or does it increase our net understanding of this seminal cold war event? By focusing on the activities of the American, Soviet and Cuban militaries during those tense October days, Michael Dobbs’s One Minute to Midnight passes this test with flying colors." Richard Holbrooke

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"From American, Russian and Cuban sources, he found new details that helped him dispel some of the ‘myth-history’ surrounding the crisis. A good storyteller, he takes special note of supporting players, such as the American U-2 pilot who strayed into Soviet airspace at a critical moment and crew members of a Russian submarine that was chased by American naval forces." Philip Seib

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Cuban missile crisis is often summarized in the windy, ethereal terms of how Kennedy and Khrushchev came ‘eyeball to eyeball,’ how they each ‘stared into the abyss’ and backed away. But Dobbs time and again stresses that the players in this crisis, as in all major conflicts, were mostly brave, lesser-known individuals who suffered terribly, wounded or killed while doing their jobs in situations over which they had little or no control." Chris Patsilelis

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"No account is definitive, and One Minute to Midnight contains its share of (mostly trivial) errors or omissions. … Nevertheless, he has produced the most important secondary account of this pivotal event in more than a decade, since Aleksandr Fursenko’s and Timothy Naftali’s One Hell of a Gamble (1997)." James G. Hershberg

Critical Summary

In this acclaimed history, Dobbs goes beyond a tale of high-level pressure and emergency phone calls and throws in tales of crisis at the lowest levels, making Tom Clancy look tame in comparison. Critics loved the new details on the U2 pilots, the attachés to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the missile operators who decided to fire (without orders) if the United States attacked. Many reviewers pointed out that Dobbs moves rather quickly through the opening stages of the crisis to focus on "Black Saturday," October 27, when Cuba shot down a U.S. spy plane. Some critics observed parallels with modern political figures and hinted that the comparisons are not flattering. Political attitudes aside, all critics agreed that it is astonishing that the world made it through as many near misses as it did, in such a short span of time.

Cited by the Critics

A-OneHellGambleOne Hell of a Gamble Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964: The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis | Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy J. Naftali (1997): With unrestricted access to Soviet records, Fursenko and Naftali do a deft job relating previously unknown details about Khrushchev’s and the Soviet Politburo’s deliberations and decisions.